Death with dignity — Why doesn’t Connecticut have it?

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Opposing views reflected in the lapel pins worn by public attendees an assisted suicide bill hearing.

Most U.S. doctors favor allowing patients suffering from an incurable illness to seek a dignified death, according to a survey of more than 21,000 medical professionals. Medscape, an online resource for medical professionals, surveyed doctors across the country last year and found that 54 percent of respondents favored death with dignity — the first time that a majority of doctors has indicated support for physician-aid in dying.

While doctors’ support for death with dignity has been increasing nationwide, the public’s view on the subject has remained relatively constant for decades. For the past 20 years, seven in ten Americans have told Gallup that they favor right-to-die policies.

More than 20 years ago, Oregon implemented its Death with Dignity Act. Since then, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana, Colorado, Washington DC and Hawaii have passed legislation authorizing medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults.

What about Connecticut?  Death with Dignity bills have been considered several times. The first attempts came in 1995 and 1997. After Washington passed the second Death with Dignity statute in the nation, the issue returned to the Connecticut legislature in 2009. Bills considered in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 received committee hearings but were not put up for a vote.

This year, an aid-in-dying bill was again raised in the Connecticut General Assembly, and again didn’t even make it out of committee. A major obstacle to this legislation has been the Connecticut State Medical Society which has opposed supporting patients’ choices at the end of life even though an independent, scientifically valid survey of our states’ doctors would, I believe, demonstrate widespread support for this legislation.

Surveys like this were done in neighboring states and the data revealed that doctors were, in fact, supportive of allowing physician’s to provide patients with a painless and dignified means of ending their lives in the face of a terminal illness, which led to the withdrawal of the Massachusetts and Vermont medical society’s opposition to Death with Dignity legislation.

This is not a political issue. We are all going to die regardless of which party we belong to or what religion we do, or don’t practice. This is a human issue and the only question is whether we will have a say in how we die. I don’t see how prohibiting people from having a full range of choices about their end of life care is anything other than a denial of what should be a basic human right.

Supporting this legislation allows one of the most important health care decisions to be made by patients and their families in consultation with their own doctors.

At the very least, doctors whose education and life’s work is grounded in the scientific method, ought to be open to finding out the facts about this issue.

Dr. Paul Bluestein lives in Bridgeport.


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